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Grey Matters, November 13, 2017; Volume 6, Number 11

posted Nov 12, 2017, 11:44 AM by Andrew Shen

Hi Everyone,

In recent years, artificial intelligence-powered devices such as the Amazon Echo and Google Home have become entrenched in many private homes, serving as “personal assistants” and allowing families to control many different household functions through voice activated commands. A recent survey suggests that close to 20 million Echos have been sold in the United States, including one that sits on the kitchen counter in Casa de Shen.  Last Summer, these devices became the focus of intense debate when prosecutors attempted to submit data collected through a family’s Echo as evidence in a murder trial, raising all sorts of questions about privacy expectations along with larger questions related to the trail of information that we leave almost every moment of the day (at least when in contact with some form of technology).  This issue of privacy in a digital age is most certainly an important topic worth a bit of healthy discussion and reflection, especially as your and my children grow up in a world where constant data collection is so ubiquitous and often invisible.  Along with these deeper questions, Melisa and I have the more immediate, and fortunately less high stakes, challenge of our three children taking some mischievous delight in using our Echo to play pranks, offer commentary, and leave us with a few surprises when we least expect it.  Exhibit A was last week’s grocery list which we we generate throughout the week by saying, “Alexa, add [grocery item here] to the shopping list” and included a few unexpected shopping items such as “another dog” courtesy of our dog-loving children. The list-making function has served as a convenient tool for our family and clearly something that a combination of our jokester children enjoy using for their own adolescent amusement and a bit of editorializing directed at Mom and Dad.  With the holiday season only a few weeks away, I wonder what other items we’ll start seeing magically appear on our shopping list.  

Here’s some updates and reminders for the next few weeks:

  • The Fall Trimester closes on Tuesday, November 28th (right after Thanksgiving).  There will likely be end-of-trimester assignments and assessments this week and next, so you might want to check in with your child(ren) about what is on their plates between now and the Thanksgiving Break.  

  • Ski and Board Club will start Tuesday, January 2nd, 2018. It will run for 6 weeks on Tuesdays (1/2, 1/9, 1/16, 1/23, 1/30, 2/6). If your child would like to sign up for the club,​ have them ask for a Ski/Board Club packet at the main office for necessary documents and instructions, or use the documents listed here. You can also download the contents of the packet from our school website, which you can get to by clicking here.  Please direct any questions to the club advisor, Lynne Kondracki (

  • 7 Green’s annual Coat Drive continues, so if you have any coats (for adults or children), they can be dropped off in our Lobby.  

  • Students who plan to try out for our winter sports need to make sure their "Green Form" is completed and reviewed by our school nurse.  Tryouts for many start the Monday we return from Thanksgiving Break - details about the tryout schedule will be posted within the next week on our Athletics website.  

Last week all families should have received an email with instructions on how to sign up for the annual parent-teacher conferences.  You can also access the sign-up form through our website by clicking here.  As I mentioned last week, one of the three conferences will be scheduled in the evening (January 4 from 5-8pm) and those slots will be filled on a first come-first served basis.  We know that this means that not all families who prefer the evening conference can be scheduled for those options, and we hope that you’ll still be able to identify times that are possible for you.  A friendly reminder that parents/guardians are not required to participate in these conferences, and many families who have attended team meetings elect not to sign up.  We appreciate everyone’s patience as our Main Office staff begin processing the many requests that are being submitted over the next few weeks.  

The annual RJ Grey musical is just around the corner! The students are working hard on this year’s production of Singin’ in the Rain and we’re looking forward to another performance that showcases our students’ talents.  Five performances are scheduled for the week after we return from Thanksgiving Break, on Thursday, November 30 (7pm), Friday, December 1 (7pm), Saturday, December 2 (2pm and 7pm), and Sunday, December 3 (2pm).  Tickets are $15 and are now available in the Junior High Main Office.  ABSAF holders are entitled to two free tickets and must pick up their tickets from the Main Office.  Tickets will also be available for sale, starting this Tuesday, November 13th at Donelan’s in Acton, and Red, White and Brew in West Acton.  Tickets are also available for purchase this week from cast members.  This is always a great family-friendly event and we hope to see many A-B families there.  As we begin to prepare for our annual school musical, I want to again share a link to one of my favorite episodes of the radio show This American Life.  Entitled, “Fiasco!” this episode highlights a small-town production of Peter Pan that, like last year’s High School production of Mary Poppins, involved the use of flying apparatuses. Unlike our High School’s production, their efforts involving the flying apparatus didn’t exactly go as planned, along with a few other mishaps that turned the show into a full-fledged fiasco.  If you’ve got twenty minutes to spare, I encourage you to listen to this piece that apparently required Ira Glass to turn off his microphone during recording because of how hard he was laughing/snorting.

The Lost & Found bin at RJ Grey is now overflowing with a whole array of clothing.  We’ve lined it up on a few tables to make it easier to sift through and we encourage families and students to take a quick look and see if there are any items that can make its way back to your home (ideally with the washing machine as the first stop).  Forgotten articles of clothing seem to be a constant aspect of the adolescent experience, along with the insistence on continuing to wear shorts and short sleeves even as the temperatures dip below freezing.  Reminding myself that some of these choices are related to the fact that the pre-frontal cortexes of the adolescent brain are not fully developed, my own mind (which only fully developed about 6 months ago) wandered back to the work of Dr. Abigail Baird who visited Acton-Boxborough a few years ago.  Dr. Baird teaches at Vassar and conducts research on adolescent brain development. I’ve shared Dr. Baird’s work with parents every year because she has a way of presenting information on adolescent brain development (and explaining behaviors) in a way that is accessible and relatable. Those of you interested in this topic can watch this video of an interview that she did with Lisa Kudrow of “Friends” fame (and a Vassar alum). They spend time talking about the interplay between emotions and decision making and a whole host of other really interesting topics - including some important differences in how boys and girls develop during adolescence. The interview is a bit long (about an hour) but if you’ve got the time it’s one of those videos that I have personally viewed several times.  

Finally, I don’t want to finish this edition of Grey Matters without acknowledging Veteran’s Day which took place this past weekend.  So I end with a thank you and a note of gratitude to members of our community who have or are still serving in our military, as well as their families who support them.  

Have a great week, everyone.